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A new pier. A redesigned park. And ferries? Hell’s Kitchen activist Jeffrey LeFrancois outlines his vision for the far west side.
My west side story
I moved to Hell’s Kitchen about five years ago, but I’ve been very involved with the neighborhood for a long time. I got introduced to the place, I went to college downtown at Pace University. And, of course, I didn’t know much above 14th St. But when I started working for the Assembly member Dick Gottfried, back in late 2008 – that’s when I really got to know the neighborhoods of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. When I had the opportunity to move here, I wasn’t going to hesitate.
There’s an authenticity to Hell’s Kitchen
There is a grit to it – even as things have been redeveloped, and changed, and a lot of huge new populations have come. It feels very New York. It feels very far west side Manhattan. Because I live on 11th Avenue, my friends tease me I live in East New Jersey sometimes, which I don’t take well to.
I love my building
It’s an old brick building that’s surrounded by new residential. And across the street is DeWitt Clinton Park, which is not going anywhere, so I’m always going to have this view of the Hudson. I still pinch myself sometimes when I wake up.
Talking of the park …
We call DeWitt Clinton the green jewel of Hell’s Kitchen, and we’ve long been working on a plan to really renovate it, bring it into the 21st century, and improve those playgrounds for kids of all ages, the dog run, the whole nine yards, because it’s a huge park.
I’m also first vice-chair of Manhattan Committee Board 4, which is Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, and will be co-chair of the Waterfront Parks Environment Committee, so we’ll definitely have an interest in helping DeWitt Clinton Park.
I like to keep a busy civic calendar
My partner and I joke about it: “What’s on the civic docket tonight? And what’s on date night tonight? Or is there a date night?”
Tuesdays are our pretty common date night. We might put in for a lottery to see a show, or go see a movie up at The Landmark on 57th St – 12th Ave. I’m so happy that theater is here. The problem is, I call it a $20 nap sometimes, because I’ll have a glass of wine, then the next thing you know I put the recliner out …
My favorite thing about living in Hell’s Kitchen
You get to think about your mood, and then figure out where you want to go. There’s always a place that’s busy, and there’s always a place that’s not very busy. I really like that. There’s a sports bar down on 11th Ave – American Retro – where, if I get my corner seat, and I’ve got the New Yorker, I’ve got my martini, they leave me alone, it’s great. You can have that, and then you can do some really awesome shoulder-to-shoulder places.
And the worst thing …
Trash. I just don’t understand why New York is so damn dirty. We have failed at educating adults, I really think that. Food cartons, dog shit … I don’t understand where the idea comes from, that you think it’s OK to just leave your dog’s feces on the sidewalk.
I really enjoy having a drink and a pizza at the bar at Nizza, on 9th – 45th St. My partner’s from Texas, so we really enjoy The Waylon, the country western bar on 10th Ave – 51st St.
For the gay bar circuit, when I want to throw it back to my youth, I absolutely love Posh because you can just dance the night away and forget what time it is. And Flaming Saddles is really fun, but you’ve got to have cash in your pocket, because it’s cash only.
I also love cooking and entertaining, and Sur La Table, on W57th St – 8th Ave is very dangerous. Carter, my partner, always knows when I’m going to Columbus Circle that, “Oh God, he might come back with something for the kitchen.”
MY HK happy place
My pottery studio. I’ve been doing Monday nights at Mud Matters, on 10th Ave – 46th St, for years. It’s my therapy. There’s a community there. It’s really, really wonderful.
An indulgence is over-ordering the veggie meatballs at The Meatball Shop.
And we’re a stone’s throw from Hudson River Park, and sitting in Clinton Cove watching the sunset is really fantastic.
My 2020 vision for the neighborhood
We’re working on the designs for Pier 97 right now, and that will be an incredible new park for the neighborhood. It’s only a couple of years away. They have the money, we are actually planning this – it’s not pie in the sky. Hell’s Kitchen is finally getting its due, when it comes to Hudson River Park.
I’m also a big advocate for bringing more ferry services to the west side of Manhattan. When the city launched its NYC ferry network, they called it a citywide network, and I guess they left off entirely the west side, even though we have piers already in place. Ferries are a really great way to move people around town. There’s not a huge infrastructure build when it comes to it – it’s not like you’re building a subway tunnel. So I’ve been pushing hard to bring a lateral network to the west side. There’s no reason it shouldn’t connect Washington Heights, Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, Meatpacking. It makes perfect sense down to the World Trade Center. One day that’ll happen.
It’s a big year for me professionally too
2020 will be my first full year as executive director of the Meatpacking BID, of having a calendar of events, of a plan, of goals that we really want to hit, and I’m super excited about that.
And it’s going to be a really interesting time in the city
Especially as we approach the election. The mayor’s race is gunning up for 2021, but that’s all going on hold once we start voting on primary candidates, figuring out who will be standing against the current occupant of the White House.
I think everybody was caught off guard in 2016. I’ve been politically involved before I could vote. Early in high school, I was knocking doors, making phone calls for the local congressman. So it’s nice to see so many people now wanting to actually make a big difference.
JEFFREY’S HELL’S KITCHEN FAVORITE PLACES
Ardesia: W52nd St – 10th/11th Ave
La Bergamote: W52nd St – 10th/11th Ave
The Landmark: W57th St – 12th Ave
American Retro: 10th Ave – W50th/51st St
Nizza: 9th Ave – W44th/45th St
The Waylon: 10th Ave/W51st St
Mud Matters: 10th Ave – W46th St
Posh: W51st St – 9th/10th AveFlaming Saddles: 10th Ave – W52nd/53rd St
Sur la Table: W57th St – 8th Ave
Hardware Bar: 10th Ave — W47/48th St
Jeffrey Lefrancois’ political career began in the office of Assembly member Dick Gottfried, where he eventually rose among the ranks to become deputy chief of staff. He left to act as Council member Corey Johnson’s first chief of staff. Now executive director of the Meatpacking Business Improvement District, he also sits on multiple boards, including the Housing Conservation Coordinators, Manhattan Committee Board 4, the Waterfront Parks Environment Committee, and the Transportation Committee.
This West Side Story originally appeared in Issue 61 of W42ST magazine in January 2020.